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Ask The Chef

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The ingredients called for in recipes can sometimes be very confusing. Here are answers to frequently asked questions on recipe instructions:

“What is a clove?” If a recipe calls for “2 cloves,” is that garlic or a spice? Clove has two definitions:

1. The individual pieces that make up a head of garlic; that is, a recipe that calls for 1 clove of garlic is a lot less garlic than a whole head of garlic. A head of garlic is separated into cloves.

2. A spice, which looks like a miniature nail, which is a member of the myrtle family. Cloves are very pungent and are available ground or whole. Sometimes recipes will call for 2 whole cloves or 2 cloves, which means don’t use ground cloves and don’t use cloves of garlic!

“What is allspice?” There is a dried berry named allspice, which is not a blend of a bunch of spices, but a separate spice. Allspice is available whole or ground and recipes usually specify. Allspice is the dominate flavor in Jamaican jerk seasoning mix.

“Which part of the green onion should I use: white or green?” All of it, except the hairy root. I have seen cooks carefully discard part of the green onion — some prefer the white end, others prefer the green end. I chop the whole green onion and mix it together; it is all delicious.

Box graters come with big holes and small holes. Use the big holes for grating cheddar, gruyere, or other semi-hard cheeses, or vegetables like carrots and zucchini. Use the small holes for grating hard cheese like parmesan or zesting citrus. If you use the small holes for grating cheddar, you will never finish grating!

“Should I discard the mushroom stems?” Yes, if the mushroom is shiitake, which have fibrous stems. Button mushrooms, white and brown mushrooms, cremini mushrooms all have edible stems which provide just as much flavor as the the mushroom cap. Some people do not care for the appearance of the stem, but the stem is good to eat.

“Is the skin on fish edible?” Only if the skin is crispy! Like poultry skin, fish skin can be cooked so that it is well-browned, crunchy, and yummy, but nobody enjoys eating either flaccid chicken skin or soft salmon skin.

“Do I chop the parsley stems?” No, leaves only. Parsley stems add a stronger, less pleasant flavor to chopped parsley, so the garnish will taste better if only the leaves are used. But the tender cilantro stems, dill stems, and tarragon stems are fine to include when chopping herbs. The stems of most other herbs should not be chopped, but the leaves should be stripped from the stem, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, mint, and basil.

Any other ingredients that confuse you? Please Ask the Chef!